It has been over a week since I read the news in the NYTimes that western demand for quinoa has driven up the cost in Bolivia where it is grown, making this ancient Inca super food less accessible to the Bolivians who have eaten it for thousands of years. As I enjoy lunches of brown rice, quinoa and kale, my own supply dwindling, I’ll soon have to make the decision on whether or not to purchase another pound—a small amount—enough to get me through another week as a main source of protein.
On the one hand, the demand for quinoa has created prosperity for the farmers who cultivate the crop and it has also kept people from leaving the country to seek work as they choose to stay and generate income from the growth of this plant. On the other hand, the less affordable it becomes, the more that Bolivians shift their diets to cheaper, processed foods which can lead to malnutrition.
I am probably the only person in my family who eats quinoa. This type of food, known as a chenopod, is not common amongst Dominicans. My dad tells me every time we speak that I must eat chicken, that I must eat animal-based protein. He doesn’t know that I eat quinoa and it wouldn’t matter unless it sprouted legs and started squawking. According to him, your health is directly linked to the food you eat and in that I completely agree but I don’t think eating more animals necessarily equals better health. So I search for other sources of protein like quinoa but it looks like I may have to shift my eating habits once more.
Will die-hard quinoa consumers stop eating it because Bolivians are less and less able to eat it themselves? Is there a way to keep the prices down in Bolivia without lowering demand? Can we also reduce the cost of quinoa here at home so more folks can derive the benefits of eating it?
While I mull over this conundrum, I’m going to divert my attention to food issues at home and take a break from quinoa for a week to participate in fasting at certain meal times in support of a campaign to draw attention to the proposed federal cuts to food programs that help feed the neediest here in the US.
Freddy doesn’t know it yet but he’s a flexitarian. “A flexitarian?” You might ask. “What is that?” I wondered the same thing the other day when I came across the term on the Mayo Clinic web site. Then I stumbled upon it once again while reading a Newsweek article on food inequality. I had never heard of the term before.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a flexitarian is someone that eats meat, poultry and fish in moderation as part of a plant-based diet. Wikipedia calls it semi-vegetarianism.
Does this term really need to exist? The American Dialect Society believes so having designated flexitarian, The Most Useful Word Of the Year of 2003. (If you’re wondering, the 2003 Word of the Year was Metrosexual. But we’ll save that topic for another blog post).
But aren’t these just folks who happen to be eating more vegetables?
In the Newsweek article, Part-Time Vegetarians, Kathy Guillermo from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is quoted as saying, “being a flexitarian is like smoking two packs of cigarettes instead of ten…”
So what do you call people who put up with people who call themselves flexitarians? Flexitarians!
I decided to give this term a little twist, re-appropriate it, and designate it to Freddy given how incredibly flexible he’s been for years with my chameleon-like ways. When you’re confounded with food dilemmas – given your temperamental stomach, allergies, addictions and food politics – you need a flexitarian like Freddy at your side. From my on and off again vegetarianism to his being agreeable when I remove another item off the list of foods I eat – he’s a Mr. Fantastic. And how about those nights I ask him to do battle with the Sugar Plum Fairy to keep her tempting sweets away from my prying fingers?
I couldn’t think of a better way to describe someone who is infinitely patient, who is accommodating to share in food experiences, and who above all else reminds me that eating should be fun and pleasurable, and that sometimes that requires a little bit of flexibility.
While the world experiences increases in food prices due to shrinking food supplies, I feel completely disconnected from that fact as I stand in a farmer’s market overflowing with fruits and vegetables priced at 99 cents and less a pound.
Earlier in the day I sat in Qdoba on Route 17 in NJ eating a giant, black bean burrito overflowing with salsa, guacomole, beans, corn, and tomatoes as I read the Friday NYTimes, which devoted most of page A4 to increases in food prices worldwide.
“Couldn’t be,” I thought to myself. Just weeks ago my sugar craving was satisfied with the purchase of Stony Hill Frozen Yogurt, which had just gone on sale at the local grocer. Oreos, a favorite sugar-packed treat of mine, were also reduced in price. (I bought a bag of those too – darn that winter sugar craving!).
Perhaps it hasn’t hit us, I figured. Then again, I read in the NYTimes article that Mr. Abdolereza Abbassian from the F.A.O. stated that the autumn soybean harvest in the United States was poor…stocks were at their lowest levels in 50 years.
Really? Well, a Bloomberg article from October 2010 states that the soybean harvest may be down 2.2 percent yet Anne Frick, a senior analyst from for Prudential Bache Commodities LLC in New York, is quoted in the article as saying that, “There is not a shortage of soybeans in the U.S. or the world.”
Her statement coincides with what I see on the shelves of the local supermarket, lots of soy products, soy milk, processed soy frozen foods, vegetable oils that come from soy and the prices appear stable.
But I’m sure that the impact of the soy harvest or any harvest for that matter doesn’t boil down to simply whether I see a shift on the shelves or in the pricing at the supermarket yet it is hard for someone like me who lives in the US to understand what the food shortage really means for the world if it isn’t in my own backyard.
I had the same feeling of disconnect when a friend who is rather well informed about food issues expressed serious worry about a potential food shortage in nyc. I wondered, should I be worried?
I asked if her concern was part of the always present doom and gloom in regard to the future of the planet, you know, all the information out there about the growing population, shrinking water supply, perilous effects of climate change, nuclear proliferation, and oh yeah, I can’t forget to mention the possibility of a meteor striking earth and wiping out civilization. The doom and gloom that we all know about but ignore to prevent complete paralysis and insomnia-filled nights. This doom and gloom seems to have existed always from beginningless time…
There wasn’t any doom and gloom to be found in the Farmer’s Market as I stood there surrounded by shelves overflowing with vegetables and fruits, milk and eggs, grains and nuts. I was planning to make a root vegetable soup and stocked up on traditional Dominican tubers commonly grown in other parts of the world – batata, yautia, and yucca – and also added broccoli rabe, squash and apples to the basket.
In the photo featured next to the article, a man walks across a cracked earth wheat field in Shanding Province, China. The evidence of the shortage is right below his feet — his gaze is fixed on the cracks; his arms held behind his back — he connects with the earth.
My feet touch a cement floor, my eyes scan a market filled with shoppers busy loading up there baskets with breads and pastas and baked goods just brought in on a truck idling in the parking lot outside the sliding glass doors.
If the increase in food prices or the shortage hasn’t hit here, then what are the signs to pay attention to? The weather is listed as a cause in one of the articles. And the weather and global warming is the main argument linked to the global food crisis in an op ed that appears in today’s NYT written by Paul Krugman, Droughts, Floods and Food.
But the weather has actually been fine in my neck of the woods of Jersey City. I actually feel like we had a proper winter with regular snowstorms and regular winter chill.
Yet, I can’t ignore the massive amounts of flooding that has hit Australia – you see that and the brain registers concern for the planet.
Neil MacFarquhar cites that rising food prices is one factor fueling the anger directed toward governments in the Middle East region. Okay, I see the ongoing discontent in that region daily on the news and can read about that in the papers.
Does the very visible discontent in the Middle East and disastrous flooding in Australia erase the disconnected feeling? Not really, the disconnect runs much deeper than that.
It isn’t just about the distance from the man in Shanding Province, China who will sit down to eat with his family and have less food, it isn’t about the absence of extreme temperatures in your neighborhood, it isn’t just about not seeing or actually experiencing less food on the shelves – the disconnect is about our relationship to food and ultimately to ourselves.
When you are disconnected from knowing where your food comes from and/or what is in it, you are more likely to be detached from what “Farmer Chen” is or is not eating in China.
I think bridging the disconnect begins with paying attention to what you eat and understanding that you have a choice – you can buy locally grown, organic, in-season and purchase less meat especially when over 70 percent of U.S. grain and 80 percent of corn is fed to farm animals rather than people according to VegforLife.
If we make small, positive changes in our own backyards, then we are likely to see a shift away from the doom and gloom expected for our global backyard, Earth.
I’ve written before about my challenges making traditional rice and beans in Rice and Beans Demystified but after a long hiatus from cooking the dish I think I’ve discovered a tasty version enough to delight even the pickiest Dominican.
The secret ingredients are sauteed Kale and Spinach. Not on the side but actually mixed into the dish. It tastes even better if the rice and beans are reheated the next day after sauteing the fresh Kale and Spinach in extra virgin olive oil.
And the best part of the day to eat the dish–breakfast!
On day 12 of a 30 day detox, I’d been looking for a more enticing meal to replace the plain oatmeal I ho hum through each morning. The cleanse means no sugar, alcohol or caffeine. That means no fun when it comes to a cardboard-like dish such as oatmeal–absent sugary sweetness like honey or raisins–it tastes pretty bland.
I started cooking beans one morning and decided to throw in brown rice. Given that I’m focused on eating vegetables, I mixed in a bit of kale and spinach throughout and it tasted awesome! Simple yet comforting.
Now the real test is having others taste it like my grandmother. Will she eat the vegetables or pick them out?
I sat across from my husband Freddy longingly watching him eat a heaping plate of nachos with ground meat, cheeses oozing from the corners, kidney beans sprinkled throughout, and salsa and sour cream drizzled all over. We were at the Wicked Werewolf in Hoboken (no actual werewolves present being a new moon and all but my stomach was howling). I was all too familiar with the supermarket brand taste of the veggie burger I chewed and chewed. Even the whole-wheat wrap with roasted peppers and tomatoes couldn’t mask that store bought flavor.
It was the middle of the afternoon, we had both taken time off to go to the DMV and deal with the transformation of changing our NY licenses to NJ, which believe it or not, was less scary then learning how to be a vegetarian.
It’s not easy being green. As someone who grew up on traditional Latino fare of meat, rice and beans it is extremely difficult to reverse culturally ingrained habits. Add to that the limited number of places that serve authentic vegetarian cuisine on this side of the Hudson and you are left eating sad, unappetizing meals. Throw in that your husband and entire family continue to eat meat and you turn into a drooling green werewolf hunting for steamed kale ready to root out the neighbor’s garden.
“I’ll take the veggie burger wrap, no onions, no mushrooms and the pesto sauce on the side, please,” I say through a big, wicked smile. “Can you add tomato, please?”
The friendly waitress (no werewolf costume, just plain white top, dark pants) dares ask, “Did you want a whole wheat wrap?”
“Yes.” Of course, I think, I’d take a nice strong flat bark, the darker and grainier, if you have it.
My husband raises his eyebrow, “Why would you pick this place if you don’t actually intend to eat what’s on the menu?” It was less a question and more of a throwing of the hands up in the air statement as this was a habit of mine that he was very much accustomed to after fourteen years together.
Around the time I met my husband in college, I made the choice to become vegetarian and he joined me in the effort (way to impress a gal—it worked!). I lasted about six months and he carried on with it for a year. As college students with classes, late-night studying, and erratic schedules, we had survived on pizza, Szechuan, Subway, Wendy’s and the dining room options of mashed potato, fried stuff and salads. When we eliminated meat we were left with salads (which I love to eat, Freddy not so much) rice, potato, bread, fries, and wonton soup without the wontons.
While we didn’t realize it, there were probably a number of vegetarian options available on campus if we had just taken the time to hunt for other sources of protein. Little did we know about quinoa, tempeh, seitan, tofu…Even if we had noticed the options our brains weren’t wired to think of quinoa or tempeh as food.
While being green didn’t suit Freddy (for now, muahahaha) I was bitten last October and it stuck.
To survive as a green werewolf you need the light of the full moon to shock your system into a total transformation and retraining of the mind. Then you need incredible flexibility and an expanded sense of what kinds of foods will satisfy your voracious taste buds. And you need a lot of practice and an open mind to try new foods.
Some days you go out of your way to find that perfect meal and some days you end up at the strangest of places and use your animal instincts to forage through limited choices and make the most of what you can pull together wickedly fast.